Additional notes by Dr Peter Wade-Martins, Norfolk Archaeological
To the side of the present church are the remains of thepriorycloisters and the buildings which surrounded them. At the far
end of the church are the central tower and transepts and the
original east end. All these were pulled down after the priory
was closed in 1539.This area was purchased by the Norfolk Archaeological
Trust in 1933, and the excavated remains are now in the care
of English Heritage. The only intact part
of the priory is the
nave, which was the area of worship set aside for local people
in the Middle Ages. There was never a separate parish church.
Visitors to the church come through the fragments of the priory
gatehouse by the road. This has also recently been purchased
by the Archaeological Trust and is due for restoration. The gatehouse
was the main entrance into the priory precinct, now mostly occupied
by the large meadow which surrounds the church. The oval of streets
around this meadow still define the precinct boundary, and parts
of the medieval wall can be seen alongside the road near the
gatehouse. Earthworks of monastic buildings not yet excavated
are also visible in the meadow.
When the priory was closed in 1539 the building materials were
sold and dispersed. There must be as many stones from the priory
now built into houses in the village as there are still on site!
Walking around Binham looking for priory stonework is, in itself,
a fascinating exercise.
When the South aisle came down, the arcade arches were blocked,
and after demolition only a few stumps of stonework were left
sticking out of the ground.
After the area was purchased by the Archaeological Trust in 1933,
it was immediately transferred into the official Guardianship
of the old Office of Works which was able to fund the clearance
and consolidation of the exposed walls.
Excavation took place every summer from 1934 until 1938, and
work finished just before war broke out in 1939. Excavation in
those days was more a question of rubble clearance using unsupervised
workmen than the careful and delicate work we would expect today.
Whatever records may have been made at the time did not survive
the war or the sudden death in 1939 of the excavator, Henry Neville,
who having retired from the Indian Civil Service, had been the
driving force behind the whole project.The only part of the excavation
archive we have now are the boxes of medieval pottery, bones
and tiles in the stores of the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology
Service. They still need to be examined.
A team of stonemasons was also employed repairing and consolidating
the exposed stonework. There is a record of how much was actually
spent each year over the five years on the excavations and on
the repairs, because it was all approved in memos held in an
old Office ofWorks file now kept in the Public Records Office.
The central feature of the monastery was the square cloister
walk with its lean-to roof. This gave sheltered access from
the monastery into the south aisle of the church in two places
and also between the buildings around the other sides of the
The buildings on the east side of the cloisters included the
chapter house (where monks held their business meetings), the
monks' parlour (or sitting room), the warming room (with fireplace
to provide warmth on chill winter evenings) and an upstairs dormitory
with a vaulted undercroft below. Leading off the dormitory is
the reredorter (toilets), not yet excavated.
On the south side of the cloisters is the large refectory (dining
room), served by kitchens behind. To the west there would have
been storerooms and accommodation for the prior and his guests,
although how this was all arranged is not entirely clear.
The further away from the cloisters you go the less easy it is
to interpret the excavated structures. There was a malting kiln
in a building at the south end of the east range, which was used
until the eighteenth century. Traces of other unexcavated structures
disappear out into the surrounding meadow beyond the area purchased
For further information
about this site and of others owned by the Norfolk Archaeological
Trust, do visit our website at http:// www.norfarchtrust.org.uk